Somerset - places to see
Along a short stretch of the A303 road in Somerset there are many National Trust properties, and I've been meaning for some time now to check them out. As you might already know from bitter experience, the weird and wonderful opening times of NT properties will often throw a spanner in the works, or a Spaniard as John Lennon used to say. The places I wanted to see in a day were:
- Montacute House
- Barrington Court
- Lytes Cary
- The Treasurers House
- Tintinhull Gardens
Well, I only managed three, because they are closed on different days of the week - it's almost as if the National Trust has a masterplan to stop people visiting too many of its properties!
(The other masterplan is separating visitors from their cash!)
Anyway, they are all within reach of the A303, and only 20 mins or so apart, so in a day or even an afternoon you can see quite of lot of English heritage, and maybe see Stonehenge on the way too as it's on the same road and not too far away - we're talking 130 miles out of London, and less from Heathrow airport. This could also be done en route to Devon and Cornwall, though it has to be said that traffic on this road can be very heavy at times. The A303, love it or loathe it, is a sort of unofficial motorway down to Cornwall.
Other places to see in this area - Bath, Lacock, Stourhead. All within easy range for a day trip, as long as you have a car.
Montacute House, Somerset
Montacute House, back garden
Montacute House, Interior
Montacute house is an Elizabethan-era house, surrounded by formal gardens and 300 acres of parkland. The connection with Elizabeth I is enhanced by the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, with is collection of royal portraits, including one of Elizabeth I from the time of the Spanish Armada. The building of the house commenced in 1588, the very year of the Spanish Armada, and the portrait alludes to this, with references to the Armada in the form of paintings on either side of the queen.
The exhibition in the Long Gallery upstairs is well worth seeing, and would make a very effective introduction to English history - in half an hour you can get a good overview just through the different portraits, which are well presented, and include jigsaw puzzles to entertain the kids - a nice practical touch.
The interiors are all fully furnished with some great antiques and renaissance- era plasterwork.
The opening hours are 11-5, last entry at 4.30. Entrance is £8.90 for adults, so it's worth joining the National Trust if you intend to see a few more places, as this entitles you to free admission. There is a courtyard cafe and shop, and the gardens are nice for walks.
Barrington Court is from the Tudor era, but what you see today is heavily reconstructed and renovated, after the house fell into a ruined state over many years. Overall, the atmosphere is a little sterile, as there is no furniture, and many bare rooms. The picture below shows the Great Hall, which is actually quite bijou, with the Minstrels gallery at the top, but then we've all got one of those. The stone used for the H- shaped mansion is particularly nice. A rich member of the Lyle family (sugar=dosh) used the house to showcase his collection of wood panelling from many different sources, including a Scottish castle, and rescued the house from its derelict state.It must have cost an absolute fortune to renovate.
The gardens are quite spectacular, and follow a theme where nearly all the flowers in each garden are the same colour. There is a cafe, shop and plant centre on the site. Entrance is £8.90 for adults.
Barrington Court, Great Hall
Barrington Court, gardens
The gardens are quite small - I found them disappointing compared to what you can see at the other sites.
Vacations in England
if you're planning a vacation in the UK, you might want to consider a few days in Somerset and the West Country. The countryside is great, and starting from Bath you could see most of Dorset and the places featured in this article over a couple of days - membership of the National Trust might work out well as there are so many of these properties in this area, and they will give you a real insight into the architecture and history of the UK.
- Other UK travel recommendations:
- Lake District
- Dorset coast.
Slightly east of this area there is another great NT property, in Dorset. Kingston Lacy is a smaller house, but one with much more family history and charm. The house is approached through Cranbourne Chase, where the road is lined with a tunnel of trees for several miles. I recall that the tree planting along this avenue was a birthday present for the lady of the house!
Kingston Lacy is well worth seeing if you have time, and could be combined with a visit to the Dorset coast around Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck (Corfe Castle)
I have covered this area in my other hub about Dorset coast attractions.